Over the past year I have had the opportunity to meet some really great entrepreneurs from all across the country through my relationship with my friends here at Bank of America. Traveling from the Great Northwest to Dallas, from D.C. and on to New York, I have been able to sit down and chat with scores of successful small business owners.
The topics we discussed were as varied as their businesses:
- What works in your business?
- What have you had to change?
- How did you survive the no-so-Great Recession?
- What tricks might you have to share with your fellow Small Business Community members?
Below you can see the wrap-up video of these chats as well as a synthesis of these small business owners’ words of wisdom. I believe that we can all benefit from what was a very valuable exercise in small business crowdsourcing.
The first lesson that emerged is that, in this hyper-competitive age when you are competing against not only the shop around the corner but also the business across the sea, it is vital for any small business owner to maintain a significant personal connection with his or her customers.
This is even truer with your most important customers— that is, the 20% who make up 80% of your business, (see, generally, the 80-20 Rule). These customers are constantly given reasons by the competition to switch vendors. The fact is, your most valuable customers are probably your company’s most valuable asset, so you should treat them as such.
Additionally, as small business owner and executive coach Ora Shtull told me, it is actually very easy these days to see where your customers congregate— and go there. Trade shows, Starbucks, conferences— if your customers are there, then you should be too.
Beyond that, according to restaurateur Brian Kelly, even something as simple as taking the time to say hello and remember a customer’s name goes a long way to forging a relationship that can last for years. As my brother the salesman says, “Remember their name and you are halfway home.”
This lesson was reinforced and reiterated in a slightly different way by Phil McKenzie, who thinks that it is equally important to communicate with your customers online as well as off. And yes my friends, this means jumping into the deep end of the social media pool.
You do not need to be on every social media platform out there— Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, to name a few— but you do have to master at least one. So which one should you choose? The one your customers are most likely to use. For example, if your clientele is primarily women, you may want to create a powerful presence on Pinterest, since about two-thirds of all Pinterest users are women.
An interesting adjunct to this social media discussion is the fact that, unfortunately, most small businesses are not using social media to its full capacity. According to the inaugural Bank of America Small Business Owner Report, only 47% of small business owners are using social media to offer discounts, deals and coupons to customers. This is a big problem because social media is an incredible vehicle for real-time customer engagement of this kind, and over half of small business owners are not utilizing it
If you are not doing that, well, what are you waiting for? Get with the plan, Stan.
Finally, one last clear theme that came through in these interviews is that the best small businesses do not just offer good value at a fair price, but rather, they offer exceptional value. What does that mean? Well, take small business owner Carissa Reiniger, for instance. She routinely makes it a practice to send articles, clips, videos and other recommendations to her customers for no other reason than she thinks they will find them valuable.
Of course, no one likes to be sold to all the time— so don’t constantly sell. Instead, offer customers something besides your products; share with them ideas that you think would be of benefit to them, not you. Do that, and they will become raving fans, and you will have a ravingly successful business.
Have you checked out the entire ‘Big Ideas for Small Business’ YouTube series? You can do so here, and share your thoughts below!
About Steve Strauss
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss You can read more articles from Steve Strauss by clicking here.